Marijuana tax and downtown smoking ban proposed

Two weeks after the Ashland City Council passed rules about growing marijuana they will consider asking voters to create a local tax on selling marijuana. And smoking of another sort — tobacco — would be banned altogether in downtown Ashland under terms of another ordinance.

The state began taxing recreational marijuana sales at the rate of 25 percent on Jan. 4. The state also allows cities to add an additional 3 percent. The tax does not apply to medical card holders. 

The proposed ordinance adding the 3 percent local tax would need to be approved by voters of Ashland in the Nov.8 general election. A previous vote by the council to add a local tax on recreational sales was voided by subsequent passage of state law.

Many cities in Oregon are making adding the tax to for an obvious reason: money. Taxing on a state level has proved to be a significant revenue stream. Washington state took in $70 million its first year. With marijuana sales of $11 million the first week it was legal in Oregon, it’s likely the Beaver state will also see significant tax revenues statewide. 

The council will also consider smoking of another substance and where that can be allowed. They’ll be looking at banning smoking in downtown Ashland. The definition of downtown Ashland would be the same as in the persistent violator ordinance — basically the area bounded by Lithia Way on the north, Hargadine Street on the south, Gresham/Third streets on the east and Church Street on the west.

Under the proposal, bars and restaurants could apply for exceptions to the ban on smoking outside their establishments, but smoking, in general, in downtown would not be allowed. Smoking in Lithia Park and all city parks is already banned. 

If approved, Ashland would be one of many municipalities creating such bans. New York City recently passed it as did New Orleans. 

There are mixed views on whether smoking bans in outdoor public spaces are helpful regarding second-hand smoke. In a 2006 study conducted the California Air Resources Control Board the effectiveness of an outdoor ban comes into question. Among its findings: outdoors, second-hand smoke levels vary widely and quickly depending on the smoker’s distance from non-smokers, how confined the outdoor area is, the concentration of smokers and the impact of the weather at the time. 

As the argument plays out in public health circles, some arguing any second-hand smoke is too much and others who claim the effects of outdoor smoking on others is negligible, the city of Ashland will consider its possible ban. 

The council will also review the plastic bag ban one year after passing it and consider endorsing the “Healthy Climate” bill in the state senate which essentially puts teeth in a 2007 measure laying out pollution reduction goals.

The meeting is set to start at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Ashland City Council chamber, 1175 East Main St. Proceedings are cablecast live on Channel 9 (or 180) and streamed online at rvtv.sou.edu.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

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